Phew, that was a close shave; or why beards are a human right

Amnesty’s new report on how Tunisia is rounding up, torturing and imprisoning alleged Islamic terrorists is the sort of thing that any Amnesty blog reader will have heard before. Right, big surprise, you may think.

I kind of thought the same thing – not least as Amnesty had a report along very similar lines last summer as well – but this passage in the new report caught my eye:

The Tunisian authorities continue to arrest and detain people suspected of involvement in terrorism-related activities and appear particularly to target bearded, religiously committed young men in their mid-twenties who frequent mosques, discuss religious trends with like-minded others, or the situation in Iraq or Palestine, and who express positive opinions about salafist-jihadist groups in Iraq and other countries. 

Yes, “bearded” men. Not only are they apparently mad, bad, dangerous etc, but also bearded. Always a giveaway.

Back in the real world – where beards aren’t automatic grounds for suspicion – we’re drowning in a sea of news about the Afghan elections. The key question: will the Taleban terrorise the nation into not voting? It was only a few years ago that the Taleban were decreeing punishments for men whose beards were too short – a fist’s-length’s growth was the requirement. Meanwhile, I recently blogged on the Mexican teenager who was severely beaten up by the police for his “subversive” spiky haircut. There’s no doubt that the “wrong” hair – facial and otherwise – can get you into trouble in various parts of the world (Iran being another example).

It’s a sore point with me perhaps (see my post about the Mexico case) but intolerance about other people’s appearance, especially hair, is a surprisingly common occurrence. Even in oh-so-tolerant Britain you still get that “put them in the army, give them a short-back-and-sides” rhetoric about “out-of-control” young people and, at a more subtle level, there’s a sort of media-led commodified ideal “look”, where beards, moustaches, long hair, dreadlocks etc etc are simply not accepted. I kid you not, but there’s even been a snide whispering campaign about Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth’s neatly-trimmed upper-lip number, sported, according to the Times, by the first moustachioed cabinet minister for 40 years. To mention the name of one of my pet indie bands, this whole thing  could surely summed up as the very Moustache Of Insanity!

This madness must end! Being a fan of stubble and all things hairy, I say – in my best Hippy Neil voice – cool it you intolerant members of the hair police.

So please read the Tunisia report and support basic rights for the bearded young men of Tunisia. Seriously. Because with human rights, I always find that if you don’t make a fuss about them … they’ll be hair today, gone tomorrow.

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